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Florida kids aren't getting their Flu vaccines, CDC data shows

The Flu virus is getting more active in Florida, however, pediatric vaccine levels are only at about 22%. The ideal level of protection for a population is 70%.
The Flu virus is getting more active in Florida, however, pediatric vaccine levels are only at about 22%. The ideal level of protection for a population is 70%.

As families gather for the Thanksgiving holiday, North America is seeing the beginnings of increased Flu activity. However, in Florida children’s vaccine levels are lagging behind the rest of the nation.

The Sunshine State's pediatric vaccine levels (6-months-old to 17-years-olds) are at about 22%, lagging behind the national average of 56% for children overall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The target level is 70%, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Florida's low child vaccination turnout is also low compared to the state's numbers from the previous Flu season, which were about 48%. However, it is still early for Flu season, said Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist at the University of Central Florida.

Weekly cumulative Influenza coverage. Florida has 22.6% of its pediatric population vaccinated
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Weekly cumulative Influenza coverage. Florida has 22.6% of its pediatric population vaccinated

Are kids at risk?

Most folks won't suffer the severe effects of the Flu even without a vaccine, but vaccinating before holiday get-togethers can be crucial for the most vulnerable family members, including immunocompromised folks, those 65 years and older, and especially young infants, Prins said.

"Infants who are under six months can't get vaccinated, you know, they can be vulnerable," Prins said. "If you have children with underlying health conditions, conditions like asthma or other conditions, they can be at greater risk as well."

Flu cases rising. A return to normal?

Last week,the CDC released datashowing Florida was among seven states with the highest Flu activity. The other six included Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and South Carolina.

However, the increased activity for this point of the year is fairly typical of pre-COVID-19 pandemic Flu seasons, said Matt Hitchings, an assistant professor at the Department of Biostatistics at the University of Florida. COVID preventative strategies, such as quarantining, may have had impacts on other respiratory virus behavior, such as the Flu, which peaks sometime between January and March.

With COVID interfering, scientists saw influenza outbreaks occurring either early in the season (September) or late (April.) That's not the case this year, which could be a sign that respiratory virus seasons are returning to a pre-2020 lifestyle.

"We've had in the last few years seen influenza at odd times, coming on the earlier side or on the very late side. So it seems like in terms of the shape of the epidemic, or the seasonal case counts this year, we're back on to pre-pandemic trends in terms of the timing," Hitchings said.

When should you get your Flu shot?

A good time to get vaccinated is around October, Hitchings said. Getting the vaccine further into the season is a bit like playing chicken with the virus. The later one gets their shot, the stronger their immunity will likely be during the peak of Flu season, but they also run a greater risk of getting sick before getting the shot, Hitchings said.

"Epidemiologists would probably recommend not leaving your appointment that late," he said.

Infection numbers typically grow after holiday get-togethers, but even with Thanksgiving around the corner, getting the vaccine before Turkey dinner should still offer some protection, Prins said.

“You may not have full immunity if you get vaccinated one, two, three days before Thanksgiving, and then you know, you do get exposed to flu, but you may expect to still have some immunity compared to not being vaccinated, ” she said.

Vaccines usually take about two weeks to settle in the body before offering full protection from a virus. Flu season peaks usually in January, but can come early, and getting the shot this week would offer full protection by the winter holidays.

What about COVID?

COVID infections are down compared to the spike observed over the summer. Data from the Florida Department of Health shows there were about 330 cases of COVID reported in Orange County at the start of November. In the latter part of August, there were 1,700 reports in the county.

As for kids (ages 0-11), there were about 343 Orange County cases in during the August peak and about 41 cases by the start of November.

While the numbers remain low, Prins suspects COVID infections will likely increase somewhat after the holidays, as it has in previous seasons.

"We've seen some decrease with COVID, but I do expect it to come up again. COVID tends to trend up sort of a little bit later in the year," she said.

Originally from South Florida, Joe Mario came to Orlando to attend the University of Central Florida where he graduated with degrees in Radio & Television Production, Film, and Psychology. He worked several beats and covered multimedia at The Villages Daily Sun but returned to the City Beautiful as a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel where he covered crime, hurricanes, and viral news. Joe Mario has too many interests and not enough time but tries to focus on his love for strange stories in comic books and horror movies. When he's not writing he loves to run in his spare time.
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